Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sailors Got Creative With Booze & Smokes

A Canadian warship pressed into service to help catch drug-runners off the African coast last year did a little dealing of its own, newly disclosed documents show. An apparent loophole in navy rules allowed HMCS Fredericton to subsidize the cost of beer for the crew by using profits from the normally forbidden sale of duty-free tobacco. The unusual cross-subsidization occurred during Operation Chabanel, an elaborate RCMP-led sting to seize 22.5 tonnes of hashish off the coast of Angola. The smuggled dope was destined for Montreal. HMCS Fredericton's report on the 44-day mission shows officials ran a nicotine-and-alcohol operation on the side as they struggled to provide two of a sailor's favourite vices. The frigate was on fisheries patrol on the Grand Banks last spring when it was unexpectedly diverted to support the RCMP sting operation off Africa.
HMCS Fredericton
The secret assignment meant a surprise extension of the voyage by several weeks - bad news for smokers, who carried only enough cigarettes to get them through to the end of April. There was a run on cigarettes at the ship's canteen until all that was left was a stock of duty-free smokes, intended to be issued to sailors once back home under strict Canada Customs rules. The navy's anti-smoking rules forbid canteens from selling cheaper duty-free tobacco so as not to encourage smokers. To get around the restriction, the canteen operators simply tacked on an extra $33.75 per carton, the equivalent of Canadian tobacco duties. The move "respect(ed) the spirit of the policy, since it did not promote smoking through lower prices but simply allowed us to provide the same level of service despite the shortage caused by the extension of our deployment," says a report obtained under the Access to Information Act. Ship officials considered turning over that extra cash to Canada Customs but decided against it, since federal regulations were silent on the matter. Instead, the profits were used to subsidize the cost of beer.

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